English Literature
Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Revolutionary Impact of Robert Lowell: An American Poet for the Ages

The contributions of Robert Lowell to American poetry are immeasurable. Widely considered to be a trailblazer in the literary world, his works continue to captivate audiences with their profound depth, wide scope, and unparalleled quality. With his distinctive writing style, Lowell's individual poems and collected works serve as a testament to the challenges, victories, and setbacks of a true poetic genius.

Who Was Robert Lowell?

Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1917, Robert Lowell was the son of Navy Commander Robert Lowell and Charlotte Winslow. His family's lineage can be traced all the way back to a passenger on the Mayflower, and both of his parents came from prominent New England families. Despite his privileged upbringing, Lowell saw himself as a troubled and rebellious soul. He attended the Brimmer Street School in Boston and later graduated from St. Mark's School in Southborough.

After high school, Lowell spent two years at Harvard University before leaving after a disagreement with his father. He then lived in a tent on the lawn of the American poet Allen Tate's house for two months, an experience that would shape his poetic career. Eventually, Lowell completed his studies at Kenyon College in Ohio, where he converted from Protestantism to Catholicism and graduated with a degree in Classic Studies.

The Poetic and Political Activism of Robert Lowell

After graduating, Lowell briefly taught English before marrying his first wife, Jean Stafford. During World War II, he was a conscientious objector and was imprisoned for his refusal to fight in the U.S. Army. It was during this time that he wrote many poems that would later be featured in his first two collections, "Land of Unlikeness" (1944) and "Lord Weary's Castle" (1946), earning him a Pulitzer Prize. It was also during this period that he formed a close friendship with poet Elizabeth Bishop, who would greatly influence his writing.

Throughout his career, Lowell taught poetry at various colleges and universities, but also became known for his political activism. He was a vehement opponent of the Vietnam War and frequently spoke out against it. He also became entangled in the Red Scare during the Cold War, accusing American director Elizabeth Ames of being a communist sympathizer.

The Turbulent Personal Life of Robert Lowell

Despite his success in poetry and activism, Lowell faced numerous challenges in his personal life. He was married three times, with his first two marriages being particularly tumultuous. He also struggled with bipolar disorder and was hospitalized multiple times throughout his life, often finding solace and inspiration for his poems within his experiences with mental illness.

In 1977, at the age of 60, Lowell passed away from a heart attack in New York City. He is buried in New Hampshire, having spent his final years living in England with his third wife, Lady Caroline Blackwood. However, he had returned to the United States to visit his second wife, Elizabeth Hardwick.

The Poetic Legacy of Robert Lowell

Lowell's first two collections, "Land of Unlikeness" (1944) and "Lord Weary's Castle" (1946), were published following his graduation from college and time in jail for refusing to serve in World War II. These collections set the stage for Lowell's groundbreaking work, which would have a lasting impact on American poetry. With his incomparable and personal style, Robert Lowell is hailed as one of the greatest poets in American history.

Discovering Robert Lowell: The Pioneer of Confessional Poetry in America

The renowned American poet, Robert Lowell, is often lauded as a prime example of confessional poetry. His collection, Life Studies, published in 1960, delves into his personal life, relationships, and struggles with mental illness. This marked a significant shift in his writing style and established his reputation as a pioneer of the confessional poetry movement in America. As a professor, Lowell also mentored many influential poets in this genre, including Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.

Lowell's Ever-Evolving Poetry

Throughout his lifetime, Lowell's poetry evolved, oscillating between strict formalism and free verse. This is apparent in his collections, such as Notebook (1970), which mainly consists of sonnets, including the famous "The Charles River."

"For the Union Dead" (1964), one of Lowell's best-known poems, reflects on his childhood, the American Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement. It is featured in his collection of the same name, which further explores personal experiences and societal issues.

Another notable example is "Skunk Hour" (1958) from his collection, Life Studies. This poem embodies the confessional style, with deeply personal subject matter and a departure from strict formalism.

The Legacy and Influence of Robert Lowell

Lowell's contributions to American poetry have been widely recognized, earning him numerous accolades, including multiple Pulitzer Prizes. He paved the way for the confessional poetry movement, which focuses on individual experiences rather than universal themes.

One of Lowell's greatest accomplishments was his ability to continuously evolve and challenge himself as a poet. His works continue to be studied and admired, solidifying his place as a prominent figure in American literature.

Key Takeaways

  • Robert Lowell (1917-1977) was a notable American poet and pioneer of confessional poetry.
  • His collection, Life Studies (1960), marked a significant shift in his writing style, with deeply personal subject matter and free verse.
  • Lowell's poetry explored personal experiences, relationships, and societal issues, earning him the reputation of being a pioneer in the confessional poetry movement.
  • Throughout his career, Lowell experimented with different styles and techniques, earning him numerous accolades and a lasting legacy in American literature.

As a prominent figure in American poetry, Robert Lowell's work continues to be studied and appreciated, making him an essential contributor to the literary landscape of the 20th century.

The Influential Beginnings of Confessional Poetry in America

With the release of his first collection of poems, Amy Lowell, the cousin of Robert Lowell, paved the way for the confessional poetry movement in America. This powerful literary movement, characterized by its raw and deeply personal subject matter, would go on to influence many other poets in the United States.

Many have speculated about the connection between Amy Lowell and Robert Lowell, both hailing from a well-known Bostonian family in New England. In fact, Robert Lowell can even trace his family lineage back to a passenger on the Mayflower.

"For the Union Dead," one of Robert Lowell's most well-known poems, takes place in Boston Common, a park that holds great personal significance for the poet. The park contains a memorial for Robert Gould Shaw, the leader of an all-black regiment during the Civil War. This setting serves as the foundation for Lowell's powerful commentary on the state of the nation.

Robert Lowell was a versatile poet, experimenting with various styles and forms throughout his career. While he began with structured and traditional poems, he eventually turned to more personal and confessional free verse. In his later years, he returned to writing in a more formalist style and even published a collection of sonnets.

Through his works, Robert Lowell has left behind a wealth of memorable quotes and poems. One of his most frequently-cited lines is the final stanza of "For the Union Dead": "The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,/giant finned cars nose forward like fish;/a savage servility/slides by on grease" (61-64).

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime